Category Archives: Alumni

PhD alumnus wins Poets&Quants teaching award

Greg FisherGreg Fisher (PhD 2012) recently made Poets&Quants “Top 40 Under 40” list. The list recognizes the rising stars in academia who represent elite schools from around the world. To determine who should receive this award, Poets&Quants asked business school officials, faculty, students and alumni for their top picks.

Fisher, who received a PhD in entrepreneurship and strategy from the Foster School in 2012, is now an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. Suresh Kotha, professor of management at the Foster School and Fisher’s PhD advisor, said, “In addition to being a great teacher and researcher, he was one of those really focused PhD students who knew what he wanted. Rarely do you see a PhD student who is so focused and knows what he wants from his PhD program in such a short period of time.” Fisher was also one of the few PhD students at the Foster School to receive an invitation to teach in the Executive MBA Program—positions typically reserved for senior faculty.

In response to winning the award, Fisher said, “It was nice to receive recognition for teaching because you often don’t know if you’re having an impact.” He also said he was honored to be part of the cohort of professionals who also received the award.

When teaching, Fisher brings the content to life. For example, at Foster he taught the business case about HomeGrocer, one of the first online grocery delivery services. In addition to analyzing the case, Fisher invited Terry Drayton, co-founder of HomeGrocer, to his class to talk about the rise and fall of the company. At the Kelley School, he teaches a business case about a bowling alley that goes through a turnaround. To make the case more memorable, Fisher teaches the class at a bowling alley. It’s experiences such as these that Fisher hopes provide a deeper, more impactful learning experience for his students.

Fisher also made the point that becoming a teacher who has impact doesn’t happen overnight. He said, “I’ve been teaching since 2005 and am always looking for ways to improve.” According to Fisher, the five years he spent at Foster as a PhD student served as an apprenticeship. He had the opportunity to see many excellent teachers in action, and would spend time figuring out what they were great at and how to emulate that in his classroom. He also said his time at Foster gave him the confidence and insights necessary to be able to experiment in the classroom.

According to Poets&Quants, “A few common characteristics cut through the whole group: Most, if not all, of the top profs leverage their youthful energy and Generation Y knowledge to create an engaging classroom environment. They naturally build genuine and meaningful relationships with their students, and they pursue another profession or serious hobby on the side.” Fisher’s serious hobby is running. He has run 45 marathons, 16 ultra-marathons and completed three Ironman Triathlons. As for upcoming races, he’s running a marathon in May and doing a triathlon this summer.

Learn more about Greg Fisher and the other “Top 40 Under 40” professors.

When the path isn’t always clear: Congresswoman Suzan DelBene on leadership

“A key part of leading is deciding. Deciding with imperfect data. Deciding when there isn’t always a path that’s clear.”

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene says she came to this particularly astute conclusion while working as a youth football referee. Like her positions at Microsoft and Drugstore.com (she served as vice-president) it provided her with two essential lessons; 1) the importance of decision making when there are still unknowns and 2) a leader must always provide a vision and a path forward.  Further qualifying this belief, the congresswoman stated, “With any organization, people are most effective when they have that vision going forward and they know where they’re heading and they know why they’re heading in that direction.”

A Foster MBA Alum, Congresswoman DelBene says she was inspired to run for Congress during her time at Global Partnerships, a micro-finance non-profit that provides loans to small business owners in Latin America and the Caribbean. After her first run for Congress in 2010 (in which she was unsuccessful) she was appointed by then governor Christine Gregoire to serve as the Director of Washington state’s Department of Treasury. In 2012, she successfully ran for a congressional seat in the newly drawn 1st district. Sitting on the House Judiciary and House Agriculture Committees, DelBene now deals with issues such as copyright laws, biotechnology and more.

Using terminology such as ROI (return on investment), the congresswoman routinely uses her business experience when approaching policy-making. Pointing to the seemingly unending federal budget debate, DelBene believes that too many of her colleagues are plagued by short-term thinking. She argues that Congress should approach budgeting concerns like successful CEOS, focusing on investment and long-term strategy. She points to the indelible benefits and returns from federal programs that invest in early learning, unemployment insurance, research and infrastructure as examples.

During her time at the podium, the congresswoman also stressed the importance of being good stewards of policy and citizen engagement, urging audience members to work in conjunction with business and community leaders to pressure Congress in to action.

Watch some highlights below:

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

You’re in charge–now what?

EMBA Panel

Left to right: EMBA student Christy Bermensolo and alums Vetri Vellore, Kevin Conroy, and René Ancinas shared insights at the Forum on Leadership and the Executive MBA.

Three Foster Executive MBA alumni and one current student, all of whom are CEOs at mid-career, shared their experiences on the challenges and rewards of leadership with an attentive audience of students, prospective students and alumni on January 29.

The four came to their leadership roles in different ways. Kevin Conroy (EMBA 2004), president and founder of Blue Rooster, has been self-employed since 1990 and has started several companies. René Ancinas (EMBA 2009), president and CEO at Port Blakely Companies, and Christy Bermensolo (EMBA 2015), CEO at Engineered Software, Inc., assumed leadership of family-owned companies fairly recently–Christy just last year. Vetri Vellore (EMBA 2006), CEO and co-founder at Chronus Corporation, started his company in 2007 after a successful 14-year career at Microsoft.

René and Christy found getting comfortable in the leadership role especially challenging. Both said the advice and guidance they received from mentors inside and outside their organizations, including EMBA classmates, had been tremendously helpful. They both quickly realized their responsibilities required the ability to manage change. For René, the challenge was growth–unusual for a family business, he said. For Christy, it was the need to adopt a style of management different from her parents’ intensely hands-on approach.

All the panelists said finding mentors who offer sound advice and counsel was a key priority, no matter how long they had been in the lead. Kevin spoke about his recent experience recruiting a board of directors, and how much he had learned in the process of preparing to take his business to the next level. René looked to his board, experienced staff members and colleagues in the Young Presidents Organization. Velore sought out executives who he considered 3-5 years ahead of him in their development.

Christy offered some insight into the reason all these leaders had chosen to enroll in Foster’s Executive MBA Program. Preparing to assume her new role, Christy–an engineer by training and analytical by nature–developed a spreadsheet listing expertise that she figured she would need in order to handle the CEO job effectively. She quickly realized her list closely matched the curriculum of the Executive MBA Program. That made one of her first big decisions an easy one.

Undergrads meet alumni at networking night

The Foster Alumni Relations team hosted a networking night as a way for alumni and current undergraduates to connect. Twenty-five alumni and 100 students attended. The event allowed young alumni to contribute to the Foster community by connecting with students and sharing their stories, while also building their professional network with other Foster alumni. As for the students, Zak Sheerazi, Assistant Director of Career Development at the Foster School, said, “This event gives them better insight into different careers as they move forward from Foster. But the ultimate goal is to connect current students with past student in order to help them navigate the transition from academics to the world of work. And potentially down the road have a mentor.”

Check out our photo blog of the event below.

Undergrads meet alumni at networking night

Network 02

Network 04

Network 05

Network 07

Network 08

Network 06

Network 03

Hit the ground running

Hayden Krall (BA 2013) is the youngest salesman at Barrier Audi in Bellevue. He’s also one of the best, consistently exceeding his sales goal by several vehicles. Under the title of brand specialist, Hayden is in charge of new sales for Audi, which means his job consists mostly of face to face interaction and building relationships with his clientele, most of whom are a generation or two older. When asked if the age difference between himself and his clients is a hindrance, Hayden takes it in stride saying, “It’s about using what you learn. I feel prepared.”

When it was time to pick an academic focus, Hayden was drawn to what he refers as the “tangible” outcomes of the Sales Program. “Getting placed at a job, as a junior [in college], that’s all you want.” When asked about his success, Hayden points to his professors and time spent role-playing in the Sales Program, stating, “[in sales] you hit the ground running.”

Although, he’s already achieved so much as a brand specialist, Hayden’s goal is to one day start his own business. For prospective sales students, Hayden advises them to “Take it seriously [and] have fun.” He also notes the prestige that comes with completion of the Sales Program, stating “Employers look at you and can tell that you’re ahead.”

Find out more about the Sales Program at the Foster School of Business here.

On breaking the mould

Guest post by Robert Mercer-Nairne (MBA 1971 and PhD 1989)
Dr. Mercer-Nairne actively seeks “to define how human organization forms and evolves as an expression of evolution as a whole.” His work can be found in novels like The Letter Writer, set in Bellevue, WA, to more recently in regular contributions to the Huffington PostMercer-Nairne currently resides back home in Scotland where he continues to grow beyond his original focus on organization theory.

Dr. Robert Mercer-NairneProbably the greatest challenge facing the developed world is growth. This is not least because we are unclear what the word means. We have various statistical definitions, such as the augmentation of our gross domestic product—essentially the level of our economic interactions with one another—but our gut instincts tell us that such measures may not address the quality of growth. One example of that is our increasing awareness that the lifestyles we enjoy today may be adversely affecting what our environment will be tomorrow. The post-war notion that we can look forward to a better future for ourselves and our children has become decidedly tarnished.

Probably the greatest challenge facing the academic profession right now is how to escape from its own departmental rigidities so that the challenges facing the human world can be looked at afresh. Are these problems connected? I think so. The expression Breaking the Mould refers to doing something differently, after it has been done in the same way for a long time. In the scientific world, the physicist Thomas Kuhn called these mould-breakings ‘paradigm shifts’. Because of their fundamental nature, they inevitably upset a lot of careers laboriously built upon the old way of seeing things. Consequently their heralds, like the three kings, are invariably dismissed as being weirdoes, troublemakers or just plain delusional.

In most walks of life, the line between maverick and idiot is narrow. Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff is a buffoon whose comic utterances often embody a wisdom which would be unpalatable to the status quo without humor. In his short story The Emperor’s New Clothes, Hans Christian Anderson uses the innocence of a child to puncture the crowd’s acceptance of the emperor’s sartorial magnificence (two swindlers make him an ‘invisible suit’ that can be ‘seen’ only by the worthy and naturally his sycophantic subjects see it even though there is nothing there). Philosophers occasionally debate whether the sane are insane and the insane sane. And even the scientific quest for objective reality can be subverted by the context within which a scientific question is phrased.

My own area of interest – the nature of structure in the evolutionary process—spans every discipline imaginable qualifying me for the accolade insane idiot, although I would prefer maverick. What I am fairly certain of, however, is that while we need the mould—without structure we have nothing – we must pay far more attention than we do to the process whereby moulds are broken and new moulds are formed. And unless you believe in a deterministic universe (and I certainly don’t) space must be left for the creative impulse to work—in politics, in business, in academe.

In the twentieth century we allowed ourselves to be led seriously astray by the false assumption that there was such a thing as inevitable social progress which overrode any moral notion of individual right or wrong. Structure always and everywhere is a function of context. In the conscious, human world, that context is shaped by our values. Start there and growth suddenly becomes limitless and sacred cows (or sacred moulds) less sacred.

The who, what, why, and Howe of Impact HUB Seattle

Impact HUB Seattle

Impact HUB Seattle

Impact HUB Seattle makes a great first impression.  It has that industrial chic thing down to a T: exposed brick, grand staircase, rustic wooden beams. There are Herman Miller chairs and 24” monitors at every desk, state-of-the-art meeting rooms, hot showers for bike commuters, and blazing fast internet, of course.   But the HUB is more than just a pretty face. It’s a space where entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and innovative start-up companies work side by side with the shared goal of making the world a better place.

“That’s Mark,” says HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe, waving at a young man through the glass walls of a sleek conference room.  “He’s the CEO of Moving World. It’s a for-profit start-up that connects professionals with vacation volunteer projects that match their skill sets.”  He turns and gestures in the other direction. “Two offices down,” he continues, “is the Seattle Good Business Network. They promote the benefits of buying and thinking local.” The HUB is filled with start-ups and nonprofits like these – organizations committed to treating contribution to the common good with the same reverence as financial gain.

Howe’s fascination with entrepreneurship began in law school, when he and an MBA student were assigned to help entrepreneurs in underserved communities with their business plans and legal issues. “It turned out I enjoyed the business side more than the legal side,” says Howe. So after getting his law degree, he set out to build his entrepreneurial expertise and earn what he calls a “poor man’s MBA,” competing in the UW Business Plan Competition with Safety Innovation, a company that produced protective garments for hospitals.

Impact HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe

Impact HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe

As Howe became more confident of his start-up skills and his law firm found its niche serving impact entrepreneurs, he found himself spending more time helping clients with introductions to investors, writing business plans, and polishing pitch decks. He was passionate about the work, but it did not match the billable hour model of a law firm. Howe asked himself, “Is there a business model that allows me to do the work that I love doing?” His answer: Yes, start an incubator.

Howe went looking for inspiration and came across the global HUB network, an ecosystem for social entrepreneurs. Started in London in 2004, the HUB network had grown to about 40 outposts worldwide, and one had just opened in San Francisco. “I fell in love with the energy of the space,” says Howe, of his visit, “and thought, this is it. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I need to bring this to Seattle.”

Roughly a year later, HUB Seattle has 500 members who use the space to work on their start-ups, hold meetings and workshops, and share ideas with a community of like-minded entrepreneurs. The HUB’s “everything under one roof” model means that members can help each other with just about every aspect of running a start-up, from accounting to web design. HUB Seattle has built partnerships with organizations like Social Venture Partners and Bainbridge Graduate Institute, aopens its space up for community events like Startup Weekend, film screenings, and Tech Meetups.

So what’s next for HUB Seattle? Howe is thinking globally. “The HUB is arguably the largest network of impact entrepreneurs in the world,” he says.  He plans to develop a globally dispersed consulting network made up of HUB members who can share their talents, collaborate on ideas, and help each other change the world.

So fresh and so green

evergreens

Ryan Suddendorf, Hunter Brooks, Todd Fishman

Evergreens Salads has a sense of humor. Each item on the menu has a name that will make you laugh out loud (or at least smirk). One might order, for example, the “Pear-ly Legal” (Asian pears, caramelized onions, walnuts and gorgonzola cheese over romaine and baby spinach), “Dice-Dice Baby” (romaine, roasted turkey, salami, garbanzo beans, basil, cherry tomatoes, jack cheese), or “The Cobbsby Show” (a new take on a traditional Cobb). Evergreens t-shirts carry slogans like “kale me maybe” or “biggest bowls in town.”   This new “salad experience” located in the heart of downtown Seattle is all about fun, but don’t let the antics fool you.  Founders Todd Fishman and Hunter Brooks mean business, and they’ve done their due diligence to make sure this salad start-up succeeds.

After graduating from the UW, Fishman and Brooks both headed east to experience life in corporate Manhattan. It was there that the childhood friends reconnected, bonding over their shared history and love of salad bars. Yes, salad bars. Seems odd at first, but we’re not talking Old Country Buffet here. The East Coast boasts gourmet salad restaurants so popular there are lines around the block.  It was while waiting in one of these lines, remembers Brooks, that the guys said to each other, “This would be killer in Seattle.”

An idea was born and the time was right. “We’re both really entrepreneurial,” says Brooks.  “We’d both been in New York for a few years. We were both ready to move on from our corporate roles and head back home.” So the two friends got down to work – fast. “We spit-balled the idea last August [2012],” Brooks recalls, “quit our jobs in September, moved home in November, signed a lease in May, and now we’re having our soft open on Friday.” (That’s Friday, August 16, just a year from when their initial concept, for anyone who’s counting.)

Fishman, who’d competed in the UW Business Plan Competition in 2009 with Nanocel, took on the task of writing the business plan.  By the time Brooks and Fishman moved west in November and teamed up with restaurant manager Ryan Suddendorf, (another UW alum), they had an impressive business plan and were ready to pitch to investors. “We raised money in about three months,” says Fishman.

One of Evergreens’ major investors is Kurt Dammeier of Sugar Mountain Capital, Seattle’s Pasta & Company, Beecher’s Cheese, and other successful restaurant ventures. “He has opened a lot of doors for us,” says Fishman. “He believes in our concept, and thanks to him, we’re getting better pricing, and real estate opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have had.” Dammeier has been a great resource for the Evergreens team, but he’s not the only one. “I’d gone through several coaching rounds in the Business Plan Competition,” recalls Fishman, “and seen how much you can gain from mentors and advisors.” So Fishman and Brooks met with as many mentors as they could – 225 to be exact. “We’ve reached out to people, asked questions, and surrounded ourselves with people who are smart and successful,” says Brooks.

They’ve put that advice to use, making sure they have a strong business from the very beginning. “Lots of early-stage entrepreneurs don’t know how to come up with a model, stay on budget, and watch every dollar,” says Fishman. “The restaurant business is expensive, and has a high failure rate. You have to know what you’re doing.”

In the end, Evergreens Salads aims to be a restaurant people will want to come back to. “We’re catering to people who work in downtown Seattle.  They sit at a desk all day and they take maybe 30 minutes for lunch, and that’s sacred time,” says Brooks.  “The big takeaway,” says Fishman, “is that Evergreens is a great place for people to get a delicious, healthy meal, and have fun while they’re at it.”